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Rackwick Youth Hostel (Orkney, Scotland)

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1 Review

Hoy, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3NJ
Tel: (01856) 873535

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      30.12.2001 12:28
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      One of the most memorable episodes of my past life was a three-week-spell on the island of Hoy. Not as a tourist, I must add, and not even in the tourist season. No, I spent a miserable (not really!) 3 weeks in Rackwick Hostel, in a wild, wet, windy November. Working. Yes, working. Far out of my home territory, but through a friend of a friend, two of us ended up erecting a mere two miles of stock-fencing for a conservation project, and working to a very strict deadline, on the island of Hoy.. In the interests of economy and profit, I had to find cost-effective accommodation. Rackwick Hostel is only available to groups or parties, not (sadly) to the itinerant nomad. And only by prior arrangement with Orkney Islands Council, of which contact details later. Fortunately, my client knew the warden. And equally fortunately, but not surprisingly, the facilities were not in great demand during the winter months. Thus we crossed on the St Ola from Scrabster (Thurso) to Stromness (Mainland Orkney), passing Rackwick Bay (our destination), close by the Old Man of Hoy, less than a third of the way into our outward journey. From Stromness, whence the ferry departs, you can see the Old Man of Hoy and Rackwick Bay. It is but spitting distance for a kittiwake. But logic does not prevail. You have to travel approximately five times the distance the kittiwake flies, because, as a human, you have superior intelligence to a kittiwake, and therefore know best. Ermm . . . so we got off the Ola at Stromness, along with all the other green people. Yes, green. This is the Pentland Firth in November, to the power of which jambutty will no doubt attest. If ever Martians wish to invade Earth, undoubtedly their best chance is landing in Stromness as the Ola docks. Green men on the quayside are the norm. How
      ever, in our decrepit 4x4 pick-up, we headed for Orphir. Orphir is the inter-island-ferry-embarkment-point for Hoy. We expected a ferry terminal. What we found (luckily) was an oil-drum at the roadside, with “Ferry” in white paint thereon, pointing down a track. The ferry took four vehicles. Backwards. Because several weeks previously, the skipper/captain/madman (sorry, I’ve still not got to grips with these nautical terms) had rammed the pier and b*ggered one end of the ship/boat/craft. And Orkney Islands Council didn’t have the money to do the repairs. So this Ro-Ro ferry was now a Back-On-and-Ro-Off ferry. And the punters could only get on one end. Which meant the ferry had to do a three point turn and “reverse” – another nautical term – into the pier at Orphir. Much to the amusement of humans, seals, auks, shags, otters, cormorants, kittiwakes, and even scallops. Watching the p*ssed Hoy farmer reverse his Landrover and sheep-trailer down the pier and on to the ferry was an education. I realise I am becoming anecdotal, and perhaps drifting away from the specific topic of Rackwick Hostel. But you know me. I’ll get there eventually. And so we did. We found ourselves in a building which had once been a one-roomed school. And most meritorious of ODC to have retained the building, and put it to a positive use. (Though personally, I would rather it were still a school – but that’s too political a topic for an op such as this. We don’t want to be troubled with issues like the deliberate rape and decline of rural communities by Governments with exclusively economic objectives; now do we?) However small the Rackwick (or indeed the Hoy) population, I firmly believe our children deserve an education within a
      reasonable radius of home. My brief experience in Hoy made me aware that in our more remote parts (not only islands), even primary school kids are required to be away from home five days a week (in many cases), because our Government (Holyrood, Westminster, it doesn’t seem to matter which) has decided it is uneconomic to sustain local schools with only a few kids. Hands up. I confess I was writing an op on a remote Youth Hostel, and I became a bit political. I accept this is improper, and I won’t do it again. (Hrmm!) Back to the tale. We found ourselves living in Rackwick Hostel, which used to be a school, and which in it’s naiveté/wisdom, OIC has decided to subdivide into two bedrooms and a kitchen. Using cheap timber framing and plasterboard to six feet. And the original room is seven feet to the eaves, and at least ten to the ridge. How can I put this politely? This is a spectacularly beautiful place. If your hobby is rock climbing, come here, and seek out the Old Man of Hoy. If your hobby is bird-watching, yes, this is the place for you, because the seabird colonies on these cliffs in spring and summer are something else. If your hobby is shagging, find another youth hostel. Unless you are very familiar with your friends. I suppose you want consumer-type details. God, this is the really boring bit. I mean, if you wanted to go to Hoy, you would check out far more web-sites than I’m going to list. Well, okay, I’ll play the game. Rackwick Hostel is available at any time of year, but only to organised groups/parties. Telephone Orkney Islands Council for details on 01856 873535, ext 2604. This is a department phone in the Council Offices in Kirkwall. Don’t quote me, but the chances are you will speak to some wee lassie/laddie who has never even heard of Hoy, never min
      d be able to tell you about Rackwick Hostel. Such is the centralisation of local government, even on the islands. You can but try. Perhaps you should visit www.syha.org.uk/pages/hostel_pages/rackwick.html where you will learn substantially less than I have already told you. Since I cannot help you very much with your travel arrangements, perhaps I can give you a little assistance for surviving your trip across the Pentland Firth on the St Ola. I am no seafarer, as you know. But I have overheard a few phrases on the occasions I have made this trip. I hope these nautical terms will be of some assistance. Fore: Duck! Golf balls crossing the Pentland Firth. Port: a necessary alcoholic, and medicinal, anti-dote for sea-sickness. Ro’locks: An apt description for this opinion. Bo’sun: a plastic container useful for containing sea-sickness. Pieces of Eight: for which read Pieces of Carrot. Draft: the beer you can’t drink, ‘cos you’ll throw up. Ferry: An islander’s adverb, usually preceding “scary”. Bridge: I believe OAP’s play it, but I’m not quite old enough to know for sure. Fo’c’sle: a mis-spelling. I’m chucking up, and the suffix should be ‘..sake. First mate: Anyone contemplating losing their virginity while crossing the Pentland Firth must be completely off their trolley. Second, third or fourth, or even umpteenth, must be aware that on the Ola, the expression Knee-trembler refers to something you perform with your head either over the side, or down the sadly few-and-far-between bogs. Hard-a-stern: I have no idea what this means, but whenever I hear the expression, I stand with my back to the fo’c’sle. Oops – have I digressed slightly from topic? Terribly sorry, and I am sure my anecdotal ramblings are less th
      an helpful to seeking-genuine-consumer-info-type-people, - of which there may be a few. If I may quote someone without naming names, I was told a wee while back on Ciao “ This would be a good opinion if you cut out the guff.” ‘Fraid I can only be me. Guff is what I do best. If you want bald facts, read somebody else.. Doubt if I’ll contribute anything else this year, so all the best for 2002 to all involved with dooyoo, contributors, staff, and peripheral wankers. ‘Tis the season of goodwill to all, even abusers. Who, after all, will see very little of 2002 on this site. (Power to your elbow, Jo.) © Mike Clark 2001

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